Europe swelters in record-breaking June heatwave

Hexbyte Glen Cove

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.

Spain, France and other western European nations sweltered over the weekend under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

The weekend’s soaring temperatures were the peak of a June heatwave in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The popular French southwestern seaside resort of Biarritz saw its highest all-time temperature Saturday afternoon of 42.9 degrees Celsius (109.2 degrees Fahrenheit) state forecaster Meteo France said as authorities urged vigilance from the central western coast down to the Spanish border.

Many parts of the region surpassed 40C, although storms were expected on the Atlantic coast on Sunday evening—the first signs that the stifling temperatures will “gradually regress to concern only the eastern part of the country,” the weather service reported.

The baking heat failed to put off heavy metal aficionados attending the Hellfest festival at Clisson on the outskirts of the western city of Nantes, where temperatures soared beyond 40C.

Those who found the energy to headbang to the music were grateful for several water fountains on hand which sprayed them periodically.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

Differences in June-August temperatures in Europe from 1950 to 2021 compared to the 1991-2020 average.

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.

And at Vincennes Zoo in the capital’s outskirts, shaggy-haired lions licked and pawed at frozen blood fed to them by zookeepers, who monitored the enclosure’s animals for signs of dehydration under the scorching sun.

“This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France, as June records fell in a dozen areas, leading him to call the weather a “marker of climate change”.

Forest fires rage

In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.

“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety,” said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends .

Fire services’ work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area, but four Canadair planes were deployed to water bomb the fires.

Farmers in the country are having to adapt.

Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “daybreak until 11:30 am” and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55C.

Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the northwest Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire “remains active”.

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Rock and metal fans were sprayed with water at the Hellfest music festival in western France.

Temperatures above 40C were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday—with highs of 43C expected in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures were forecast to go as high as 40C on Saturday but only reached 36C. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

Foretaste of future

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 30C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

“I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy’s dairy cows were putting out 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

Spain has been hit by a week-long heatwave, with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius expected on Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

© 2022 AFP

Europe swelters in record-breaking June heatwave (2022, June 18)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Twin of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover begins terrain tests

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Updated with new features, the Earthly twin of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover arrives at the Mars Yard garage at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Oct. 29, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On a recent day in November, the car-size rover rolled slowly forward, then stopped, perched on the threshold of a Martian landscape. But this rover, named OPTIMISM, wasn’t on the Red Planet. And the landscape was a boulder-strewn mock-up of the real Mars—the Mars Yard at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

OPTIMISM, a twin of the Perseverance rover that is exploring Jezero Crater on Mars, will perform a crucial job in the weeks ahead: Navigating the Mars Yard’s slopes and hazards, drilling sample cores from boulders, and storing the samples in metal tubes—just like Perseverance is doing in its hunt for signs of ancient microbial life. Short for Operational Perseverance Twin for Integration of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars, OPTIMISM is more generically known as a vehicle system test bed, and the recently upgraded rover begins testing out new equipment for the first time this month.

The tests help ensure that OPTIMISM’s twin on Mars can safely execute the commands sent by controllers on Earth. They also could potentially reveal unexpected problems Perseverance might encounter.

“The size and shape of rocks in the visual field—will they turn into obstacles or not?” said Bryan Martin, the flight software and test beds manager at JPL. “We test a lot of that, figure out what kinds of things to avoid. What we have safely traversed around here has informed rover drivers in planning their traverses on Mars. We’ve done so much testing on the ground we can be confident in it. It works.”

About as long as a doubles tennis court and twice as wide, the Mars Yard has served as a testing ground for many a fully-engineered rover twin—from the engineering model of the very first, tiny Sojourner that landed on Mars in 1997 to the Spirit and Opportunity missions that began in 2004 to the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers exploring Mars today.

In each case, a rover double has scaled slopes, dodged obstacles, or helped rover planners puzzle out new paths on the simulated patch of Mars. OPTIMISM first rolled out into the Mars Yard in September 2020, when it conducted mobility tests.

But it recently received some key updates to match features available on Perseverance, including additional mobility software and the bulk of the exquisitely complex sample caching system. And while the team has already performed tests using the coring drill at the end of OPTIMISM’s robotic arm, they’ll be testing the newly installed Adaptive Caching Assembly for the first time in the Mars Yard. The assembly on Perseverance is responsible for storing rock and sediment samples. Some or all of these initial samples could be among those returned to Earth by a future mission.

“Now we can do it end-to-end in the test bed,” said the Vehicle System Test Bed systems engineering lead, Jose G. Trujillo-Rojas. “Drill into the rock, collect the core sample, and now we have the mechanism responsible to cache that sample in the cylinder.”

And if problems arise on Perseverance on Mars, OPTIMISM can be used as a platform to figure out what went wrong and also how to fix it.

Twin twins

On this November day, a heavy-duty vehicle transported OPTIMISM from a JPL test lab to the Mars Yard garage. Recently expanded, the structure also provides shelter to one of Curiosity’s Earthly counterparts: MAGGIE, or Mars Automated Giant Gizmo for Integrated Engineering. A second Curiosity double, a skeletal version called “Scarecrow” that lacks a computer brain, is housed in a separate shed in the Mars Yard.

MAGGIE would be joining OPTIMISM in the Mars Yard garage in the days ahead.

But, for now, the test-bed crew was focused on OPTIMISM. “Straight 5 meters forward: Ready?” Leann Bowen, a test bed engineer, called out from a computer console inside the garage.

“All right, bring her home, Leann,” Trujillo-Rojas said.

With a whine of electric motors, OPTIMISM crept forward on its six metal wheels, stopping right on the mark on the garage’s concrete floor as members of the team looked on in their white lab coats. Through a wide-open door ahead of the rover, the Mars Yard beckoned.

Drilling core samples from terrestrial rocks in the Mars Yard and sealing them in metal tubes is not as straightforward as it might sound. JPL’s Mars team provides a variety of rock types for OPTIMISM to drill through, since the exact nature of the rock Perseverance will encounter often can’t be known in advance. Terrain is a variable, too: One previous test with the robotic arm involved parking the rover on a slope, then instructing it to drill.

Engineering models of the Curiosity Mars rover (foreground) and the Perseverance Mars rover share space in the garage at JPL’s Mars Yard. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“There was a possibility that the rover might slip,” Trujillo-Rojas said. “We wanted to test that first here on Earth before sending instructions to the rover on Mars. That was scary, because you can imagine if you drill this way, and the rover slightly slipped back, the drill could have gotten stuck.”

OPTIMISM drilled the core successfully, suggesting Perseverance also could pull off on a slope if required.

Test drive

With longer drives in Perseverance’s near future, another job for the Earth-bound twin will involve presenting new challenges to the rover’s autonomous navigation system, or AutoNav. Perseverance uses a powerful computer to make 3D maps using rover images of the ahead, and uses those maps to plan its drive with minimal human assistance.

In Mars Yard tests, the twin rover might pause as it “thinks through” several possible choices—or even decides, unexpectedly, to avoid altogether and just go around.

“Seeing the rover autonomously move in the Mars Yard, you kind of get that sense of being connected to the rover on Mars,” he said. “It gives you that visual connection.”

Of course, OPTIMISM and its human team must contend with environmental factors very different from those encountered by Perseverance, which is built for freezing temperatures and intense radiation. Earth’s stronger gravity required OPTIMISM’s metal wheels to be thicker than its Martian counterpart’s. And its electronics sometimes must be cooled to avoid damage from Southern California’s summer temperatures—the opposite of the problem caused by deep cold on Mars.

“On Mars, we try to keep the rover warm,” Trujillo-Rojas said. “Here, we’re trying to keep it cool.”

Deer, bobcats, tarantulas, even occasional snakes, find their way into the Mars Yard. Wildfire in the region can fill the air with smoke. And testing and staffing schedules had to contend with COVID-19.

“We’ve been through a lot of challenges with this rover,” he said. “As soon as we were going to start building it, with hands-on integration, the pandemic happened. And then we had rains, and we got a lot of fire. We had to leave the lab—smoky!”

Now, a revamped OPTIMISM is ready to get back to work.

“It’s a big milestone for our team,” Trujillo-Rojas said.

More about the mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

More information:
For more about Perseverance, visit and


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Hexbyte Glen Cove A speed limit also applies in the quantum world thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove A speed limit also applies in the quantum world

Hexbyte Glen Cove

First author Manolo Rivera Lam (left) and principal investigator Dr. Andrea Alberti (right) at the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. Credit: © Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn

Even in the world of the smallest particles with their own special rules, things cannot proceed infinitely fast. Physicists at the University of Bonn have now shown what the speed limit is for complex quantum operations. The study also involved scientists from MIT, the universities of Hamburg, Cologne and Padua, and the Jülich Research Center. The results are important for the realization of quantum computers, among other things. They are published in the prestigious journal Physical Review X, and covered by the Physics Magazine of the American Physical Society.

Suppose you observe a waiter (the lockdown is already history) who on New Year’s Eve has to serve an entire tray of champagne glasses just a few minutes before midnight. He rushes from guest to guest at top speed. Thanks to his technique, perfected over many years of work, he nevertheless manages not to spill even a single drop of the precious liquid.

A little trick helps him to do this: While the waiter accelerates his steps, he tilts the tray a bit so that the champagne does not spill out of the glasses. Halfway to the table, he tilts it in the opposite direction and slows down. Only when he has come to a complete stop does he hold it upright again.

Atoms are in some ways similar to champagne. They can be described as waves of matter, which behave not like a billiard ball but more like a liquid. Anyone who wants to transport from one place to another as quickly as possible must therefore be as skillful as the waiter on New Year’s Eve. “And even then, there is a speed limit that this transport cannot exceed,” explains Dr. Andrea Alberti, who led this study at the Institute of Applied Physics of the University of Bonn.

Cesium atom as a champagne substitute

In their study, the researchers experimentally investigated exactly where this limit lies. They used a as a champagne substitute and two laser beams perfectly superimposed but directed against each other as a tray. This superposition, called interference by physicists, creates a standing wave of light: a sequence of mountains and valleys that initially do not move. “We loaded the atom into one of these valleys, and then set the standing wave in motion—this displaced the position of the valley itself,” says Alberti. “Our goal was to get the atom to the target location in the shortest possible time without it spilling out of the valley, so to speak.”

The fact that there is a speed limit in the microcosm was already theoretically demonstrated by two Soviet physicists, Leonid Mandelstam and Igor Tamm more than 60 years ago. They showed that the maximum speed of a quantum process depends on the energy uncertainty, i.e., how “free” the manipulated particle is with respect to its possible energy states: the more energetic freedom it has, the faster it is. In the case of the transport of an atom, for example, the deeper the valley into which the cesium atom is trapped, the more spread the energies of the quantum states in the valley are, and ultimately the faster the atom can be transported. Something similar can be seen in the example of the waiter: If he only fills the glasses half full (to the chagrin of the guests), he runs less risk that the champagne spills over as he accelerates and decelerates. However, the energetic freedom of a particle cannot be increased arbitrarily. “We can’t make our valley infinitely deep—it would cost us too much energy,” stresses Alberti.

Beam me up, Scotty!

The speed limit of Mandelstam and Tamm is a fundamental limit. However, one can only reach it under certain circumstances, namely in systems with only two quantum states. “In our case, for example, this happens when the point of origin and destination are very close to each other,” the physicist explains. “Then the matter waves of the atom at both locations overlap, and the atom could be transported directly to its destination in one go, that is, without any stops in between—almost like the teleportation in the Starship Enterprise of Star Trek.”

However, the situation is different when the distance grows to several dozens of matter wave widths as in the Bonn experiment. For these distances, direct teleportation is impossible. Instead, the particle must go through several intermediate states to reach its final destination: The two-level system becomes a multi-level system. The study shows that a lower speed limit applies to such processes than that predicted by the two Soviet physicists: It is determined not only by the energy uncertainty, but also by the number of intermediate states. In this way, the work improves the theoretical understanding of complex quantum processes and their constraints.

The physicists’ findings are important not least for quantum computing. The computations that are possible with quantum computers are mostly based on the manipulation of multi-level systems. Quantum states are very fragile, though. They last only a short lapse of time, which physicists call coherence time. It is therefore important to pack as many computational operations as possible into this time. “Our study reveals the maximum number of operations we can perform in the coherence time,” Alberti explains. “This makes it possible to make optimal use of it.”

More information:
Manolo R. Lam et al, Demonstration of Quantum Brachistochrones between Distant States of an Atom, Physical Review X (2021). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.11.011035

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